*Fabio Gabrielli1, 3, Andrea Carta3, Pamela Fogliaro2, Alessandro Scuotto2
Violent food: anthropology of eating disorders in the technical age
1Scientific Committee of „Paolo Sotgiu”, Institute for Research in Quantitative and Quantum Psychiatry and Cardiology, Libera Università degli Studi di Scienze Umane e Tecnologiche di Lugano, Switzerland
Head of Faculty: Massimo Cocchi, MD
2Faculty of Health Science, Libera Università degli Studi di Scienze Umane e Tecnologiche di Lugano, Switzerland
Head of Faculty: Alessandro Scuotto, MD, PhD
3Faculty of Human Science, Libera Università degli Studi di Scienze Umane e Tecnologiche di Lugano, Switzerland
Head of Faculty: Fabio Gabrielli, PhD
The relationship with food, primordial expression of man’s way of existing, can be completely distorted because of the high symbolic value eating acquires from birth throughout all life, food as an identity criterion, social exchange, tradition and, above all, a primary element in the structuring of personological attitudes. In the modern ‘consumer society’ based on efficiency and production, where it is more important to display the body than experience it, advertising plays a major role by deeply influencing the attitudes of young consumers – an easy target due to their receptivity -, steering their choices and causing, in turn, significant alterations in their eating habits. In particular, scientific literature suggests a strong correlation between the exposure to mass media and overweight/obesity in children and adolescents, as well as the ability of these communication means to influence body image perception processes in young people, which contribute to the development of eating disorders.
As is known, eating and food refer to a range of meanings, a mixture of biological codes and cultural expressions, anthropological glances, symbolic references, social dynamics and biographical and community narrations. Most of our identity, our way of ‘being in the world’ and opening to relationships is rooted in food (1). In other words, food becomes a space identifier, living radicalism (2) able, in some way, to stem that social factionalism that ceaselessly nurtures community discontinuity. In the con-fusion of identities, i.e. in their reciprocal merger, the possibility of community living arises, not just made of a shared physical space but strong symbolism that ranges from the collective rituality of play to the historic-existential traces stored by the memory, from a truly social industry to cultural design which, before informing are able to form an us which emerges as a qualitatively different reality.
Finding an identifying symbolic resource in food is no small thing at a time when money seems to be the only dispenser of sense in the face of a structural inability to mediate intimacy shown all round and, therefore, made public, without shame, and private life. This is concealed to the point that our houses have become impregnable strongholds and our flats internal cells where tensions, the ambivalences of life, continuous biographical oscillations, do not find a way to slacken and dissolve in the awareness of their structural, contingent repetitions, due to the fertile comparison – and the regenerating sharing – with the existential experience of the other (3).
Unfortunately, in the technological society which, moreover, has made a significant contribution to democratising and purifying it, food itself has become an object, goods, a shapeless life and not a sheaf of relationships, a symbolic and social medium (4), an element that is not secondary in the structuring of personological attitudes (5-8). In particular, food has become an advertising icon, the privileged topos of homologation and anaesthetisation of consciences - from a biological and anthropological element, food has ended up becoming a pathological, relational and social discriminant in the technical society. From exaggerated thinness, in line with the cult of technological efficiency and production, to obesity as an inauthentic response to media pressure, food has become a difficult node, an anthropological and existential place to question, under the aegis of an undue amplification of eating disorders.
Media exposure and eating disorders
Two main critical points are outlined in the literature in the analysis of the role of advertising in the nutritional behaviour of children and adolescents. Firstly, for some time, research has stressed the strong correlation between exposure to the media and the development of overweight and obesity during development (9-12). Prevention and the identification of effective strategies with reference to juvenile obesity, a true epidemic of the third millennium with a percentage of overweight and obese children and adolescents that ranges from 20 to 30% in European countries, becomes extremely important, if it’s considered that 70-80% of obese adolescents are destined to become obese adults, and that the so-called non-communicable diseases linked to obesity now cause about 3 million deaths a year in the European Union alone (13).
The daily bombardment of advertising messages, radio and television communications and persuasive packaging (14, 15) are among the main causes of infantile obesity (with sedentary lifestyles, incorrect nutritional patterns, genetic factors, social-economic status and physical environment) (16). In particular, the incessant media action promoting unhealthy food seems to influence the nutritional preferences of the young and thus their request for food and their diet (10). Research data shows that „children learn to recognise brands and products before they learn to read” (17). In particular, obese children are more aware of and involved in adverts on food than thin children, and their consumption of food after exposure to adverts, in particular snack foods, cakes and desserts and especially salty foods, is higher (18).
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